We are discussing the question, “What is the evangelical approach according to the Scriptures?” In the previous article on this subject we considered the preaching of the Gospel in the world before the flood. We recognized the fact that there was a twofold seed: the seed of the serpent, or the natural children of Adam and Eve, who were conceived and born in sin, and, on the other hand, the seed of the woman, who also were conceived and born in sin but were regenerated by the Spirit of God. God made separation, put enmity, by causing election and reprobation to run through the line of the generations of our first parents. The seed of the serpent developed in wickedness, while the covenant seed was preserved in the midst of an evil world, ultimately to bring forth the Christ. We noticed also that the covenant seed, or the church, was given the prophets, such as Enoch and Noah, who preached the Gospel in that first world. They prophesied against the wickedness of their day and promised deliverance to the church through the judgment that would fall upon a world steeped in iniquity. God maintained His Name and His cause in the earth, proclaiming His righteousness as the God of all grace who shows mercy to those who fear Him and punishes those who despise and rebel against Him. For almost two thousand years before the flood there was the antithetical preaching of the Word as a savor of life unto life for the elect, but as a savor of death unto death for the reprobate. And therefore the flood was type of the final judgment that is still to come. Just because the flood is a type of the final judgment we may not ignore the antithetical power of the Word in the days of Noah. For the evangelical approach of the preaching of the Word is not essentially different in the days of the coming of the Son of man.
In this article I wish to consider various passages of Scripture that help us to understand the preaching of the Gospel during the period of the old dispensation, from the time of the flood to the coming of Christ.
Our attention is directed at once to the fact that immediately after the flood the Gospel promise centered upon Shem. By the Spirit of prophecy Noah said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant.” And then he adds concerning Japheth, “God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.” By no stretch of the imagination can we speak here of an “undifferentiated Gospel” as if God says to all three sons of Noah, “I love you and all your generations; I want to save you and your generations; I will send My Son to die for you and all your generations.” Quite the opposite is true. God says that the covenant line will continue throughout the old dispensation in the generations of Shem. Only at a later date, and that in the new dispensation, will Japheth’s descendants share in the covenant blessings of Shem. And always Canaan, that is, the reprobate world, will be their servant, carrying out the counsel of God for the salvation of God’s Church.
Here again election and reprobation stand on the foreground, not as something hidden, but as the revealed will of God. God promises to establish His covenant with Shem and with Shem’s seed after him, as an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto him and to his seed after him. And reaching far into the future, God promises that many nations, tribes, and peoples will share in the blessings of the covenant as the covenant broadens from the narrow channels of Israel to include the spiritual seed of Japheth also. But there will always be a reprobate element, like the nations on the four corners of the earth, who will be excluded from the preaching of the Gospel until the end of the ages is upon them. Canaan, or the pagan nations, never receive the Gospel preaching except shortly before Christ comes again. And yet these nations serve their purpose, for they are used by God to try and to purify His Church as by fire. Thus God also assured the elect of Isaiah’s day, “For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour; I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.” Isaiah 43:3, 4.
It cannot escape us that at the tower of Babel there is no mention of a prophet nor of preaching of any kind. Noah and Shem, and many other believers must have been living at that time; yet God chose not to speak through them, but rather to act. The world had united itself in a common purpose of defying God by exalting man. Yet with a brush of the hand, as it were, by confusing their language God foiled their plans and scattered them over the face of the earth. This simple fact had such far reaching results that even today the peoples of the earth have not completely recovered from the blow that God struck at Babel. Each family went its own way, spreading out, developing in its own manner, always still dreaming of the time when they will be united as one great world power against God and against His Christ.
Of equal significance to us is the fact that God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees to bring him to the land of Canaan. If anyone should imagine that Abraham might have been sent there to tell the Canaanites of God’s universal love for all mankind and also for them, that person must be sorely disappointed in Abraham’s sojourn in the land. For Abraham isolated himself as a stranger, as did also Isaac and Jacob after them. They never hesitated to witness of their faith in their God and of the hope of His promise; yet they remained aloof, separated as pilgrims and strangers. And Hebrews 11 approves of this action as an act of faith. We are told, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
Some time later Joseph was brought into Egypt. Again we marvel how he maintained his faith and remained a stranger in a strange land, always ready to confess his God. But it can hardly be said that God sent him to Egypt to bring the Egyptians to a saving faith in the promised Christ. He is described to us, not as a missionary, but as a lone warrior, surrounded by foes on every hand, but whose arms were made strong by the mighty God of Jacob. Gen. 49:24.
Through His servant Moses God declares that He is God and that all Egypt’s idols are mere human inventions. In Exodus 5:1, 2 we read, “And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness. And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.” God sends ten plagues upon defiant Pharaoh and Egypt, and repeatedly we read that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart that he would not let the people go. There was a preaching of the Word to Pharaoh, not as an offer of salvation or as a manifestation of universal love, but rather to declare His power, so that Pharaoh may forever be without excuse; For we are told in Romans 9:17, “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh (this is surely preaching of the Word), Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.”
In the history that follows there are four facts that stand out prominently.
First, God gathers His church in the line of the continued generation of believers. The covenant line runs from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, and continues in the twelve sons of Jacob, who become the twelve tribes of Israel. Soon the line centers in Judah and in David to bring forth the Christ. Among Israel God sends His prophets, reveals His promises, shows His signs and wonders, and instructs His people through types and shadows. There the Spirit works regeneration, calling, faith, conversion, justification, sanctification, and glorification. The true Israel looks in faith for the coming of Christ, in whom is all their salvation. But it is not all Israel that is called Israel. Rom. 2:28, 29; Rom. 9:6, 8. The carnal seed also resides in the sphere of the covenant, hears the word of the prophets, learns about the promises, sees the signs and wonders, and receives instruction in the types and shadows. But without regeneration they are hardened in their sins. But this is also according to eternal sovereign good pleasure. How else can one possibly explain Isaiah’s vision in the sixth chapter of his prophecy? In response to the voice that asked, “Whom shall I send (to preach to Israel)?” the prophet says, “Here I am, send me.” And God says, “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not, and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed,” Apart from the fact that God promises that a remnant shall be saved, this is hardly a pleasant mandate for the prophet. But he did not object that in that case there was no Gospel message, nor did he complain that he had no one to address, or that the “addressability” had been taken away. He preached to all in the conviction that as many as were ordained to eternal life would be brought to repentance and to salvation.
Second, we must note that God’s message alsoreaches beyond Israel to those who are outside of the covenant line, even as God in His good pleasure proclaims that Gospel to them. We know that He caused His Word to touch the heart of a very unlikely person, Rahab, the harlot of Jericho. This woman informed the spies that terror was fallen upon all the inhabitants of the land, and that their hearts did faint because of the reports which they had heard, how God had brought Israel through the Red Sea and defeated the kings on the other side of Jordan to give His people this land of Canaan. She adds, “Our hearts did melt, neither remained there courage in any man, because of you: for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in the earth beneath.” Joshua 2:9-11. The obvious difference between the inhabitants of the land and Rahab was, that while the inhabitants of the land were hardened against this manifestation of God’s power, Rahab’s heart was renewed to believe and to seek her salvation among the true people of God.
(to be continued)